Cheap Fun

We sure complain about the high costs of health care, but did you know that the average American spends about the same amount (5.6% of their income) on fun? Yet no one complains about skyrocketing entertainment prices!

That’s right. According to Visual Economics, the average American earns  just over $50,000 per year. Of that,  around $2,800 goes to amuse ourselves. It’s nearly the same as we spend on healthcare (5.9%, almost $3,000) and much more than we give away to charity (3.4%, $1,700).

I know a lot of people who have decided to go without health insurance because they claim they can’t afford it. Perhaps they really can’t. But most still pay for cable or satellite TV, go to movies, eat out, and take vacations. If we are serious about getting our spending under control, maybe we need to re-examine our priorities. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have fun.

Movies aren’t the only option for entertainment, but even those can be had at less-than-theater prices—or even cheaper than renting them from Blockbuster or Netflicks. We borrow movies from friends and family members. Since we don’t buy movies ourselves, I  occasionally make them cookies or bring them extra garden produce as a thank you. The library also has movies to check out, or you could read a book. (See my recommended reads on the sidebar.) Libraries also sponsor free lectures on a wide variety of topics. So do colleges, homeowner associations, and clubs. Check the listings in the newspaper or online.

Skip expensive concerts, and look for free or low-cost ones instead. Every summer our city sponsors outdoor concerts in a local park—we bring the lawn chairs and a sack lunch or dinner. Churches and schools frequently have music events. If you’re really desperate for a particular band, download the album and listen over and over. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than nothing.

In general, we’ve found that doing something fun is cheaper than watching other do something fun. And we enjoy it more. You can give yourself a good workout and come out smiling.

Pete and I like to play games, go for hikes and scenic drives, jump in a lake or wade in a stream, read books, talk to friends, play or listen to music, and host potlucks. That’s plenty to get you started.

Vacations are sometimes sanity-savers, but they tend to be very expensive as well. Consider visiting friends rather than paying for multiple nights in a motel. We live in a popular vacation destination, so we’re used to welcoming house guests. Just be considerate of your hosts, and be sure to help out, perhaps by doing the dishes every night. Camping can also save money over hotel costs. While developed campgrounds are getting a bit pricey, national forests often allow free camping at pull-outs along the back roads. You’ll have to bring your own water, and there won’t be the ubiquitous picnic table, but using a bush behind a tree can be a lot more pleasant than some of the vaulted toilets I’ve encountered.

Another way to save is to simplify celebrations. Christmas and birthdays can cost a lot, or a little. Consider what is essential to your family traditions, and make changes elsewhere. Make the birthday cake, instead of buying one. Skip the $4.50 card and make your own. Sometimes we go to the card store and just read cards to one another without buying any of them.

Instead of buying presents, write letters to one another about how much they mean to you, or what good qualities you see in them. Include a prayer for the new year. Or give gifts of service. Going out to dinner is fun, but how about making special meals at home for one another? Get creative, and consider the person you want to bless. Skip some of the decorations and fuss, and focus on your heart instead. You might never go back to your old habits.

I’d love to hear ways that you save money and have fun at the same time. What tips can you add?

4 thoughts on “Cheap Fun

  1. If you really want to go to a movie theater, check out the discount theaters in your area and see if any good movies are playing. We have one here that sells tickets for only $3.50! Yes, the movies they show tend to be a few months older, but if you don’t mind waiting until the movie has left the main theater, you get quite a discount!!

  2. You can also try checking out guidebooks, such as from AAA, about places to see. Sometimes the listings include information on what day of the week or month a particular museum might have free admission (San Francisco seems to have several).

  3. Denver also has free admission on certain days, for wonderful places such as the zoo, the museums, and the botanic gardens. Another great idea!

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